It’s true—despite what we see on our news, there is actually progress in the Middle East. Cultural and economic progress, and progress in the growing influence of young people. The isolated events that appear in our U.S. news reports vary from bad to terrible, but beneath that surface there exists a tide of change and modernization which predicts an eventual positive outcome.
Today, young Arab women attend and graduate from engineering programs in Qatar’s Education City in higher percentages than young American women in the U.S. and they are also recruited by Arab companies into good jobs at the same pay rates as the young men. Smart, patriotic young men and women employed modern technology to drive the Arab Spring, and even though the goals of that particular effort may not have been fully met, that same technology continues to undermine the dictators who haven’t (yet) recognized what is happening around them. In Saudi Arabia, Salafists embrace modernity and reconcile ancient religious beliefs with soaring new, glass and steel cities. Even religious blocks like the Muslim Brotherhood have put country first and religion second in places like Tunisia, not unlike the shaky transition of the Irish Republican Army in Europe. Tourism and economic growth thrive in “safe” areas like Dubai—a fact not lost on the leaders of other Arab countries who know that oil will not sustain them forever. Tourism and economic prosperity will return to less affluent places like Egypt, Iraq and perhaps even torn-apart Syria on the heels of political stability, and many of those tourists will bring rubles, euros and yuen, not U.S. dollars.
Here in the U.S., signs of progress in the Middle East are masked by our necessary focus on radical extremists and the territorial competition of diverse ideologies. But remember that this is a region that threw off British colonialism, rebelled against Western-backed dictators and is moving into a new era, while preserving its own cultural heritage. That heritage cuts much deeper than the fundamentalist religious excesses we see on Fox News and CNN. Think of the great food you eat at Fadi’s and Café Caspian, camel breeding and racing that exceed our own Texas quarter horse industry, a historic desert culture, and incredible modern and ancient architecture.
Learning the history of the area and the events which have transpired there helps us sort out what is really going on in the Middle East. Through the lens of history we can see that the Middle East today is not a stagnant or backwards area at all, but a region in transition. It is an area with great promise for the future once the right leaders come forward—and step up to make the right decisions.
“The Middle East: Paths to Conflict” meets Tuesdays at 10:00 beginning March 19. To register click here.